Blog Archives

Who’s Going to Hell for That One?

June 29, 2011 | 49 comments
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There’s a folk doctrine I’ve heard expressed by members of the church, and it goes something like this: “As long as you are obedient to your priesthood leaders, any sins you commit are on their heads.” The idea is that if your priesthood leaders counsel you poorly and you obey that counsel, you aren’t morally responsible for the outcome of those actions; you fulfilled your duty as a saint. You get to go to heaven, and they get to go…well, wherever it is that people who give bad counsel go. Where do we get this from? St. Ignatius, founder... Read more »

The “Doctrinal Sheen”

June 22, 2011 | 54 comments
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The “Doctrinal Sheen”

Gospel Doctrine on Sunday featured the parable of the ten virgins, accompanied by this picture: Apparently it’s a well-known picture, but I’d never seen it before. The instructor read the picture’s accompanying interpretation. It’s too long for me to share in its fullness (which can be found here), but here are some of the bits that I found a little bit jarring in the context of a Sunday school lesson: “The third virgin represents the ordinances necessary on this earth to enter the kingdom… She is dressed in blue, trimmed with gold – blue and gold are the colors... Read more »

The Current State of Worship Options

June 15, 2011 | 29 comments
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I decided a couple weeks ago that I’m going to start attending the worship services of the various churches in my area, partially for self-education and partially for fun. Motivated by the vision of being inspired by new and unfamiliar practices, I hopped on Google and searched for “roseville churches”, then clicked on the map view. Roseville isn’t a huge cosmopolitan metropolis (it’s a suburb of Sacramento, with a population of about 120,000 people), but it’s large enough that I hoped to find a variety of religious groups. Of the first 10 search results, 8 are non-denominational Christian churches... Read more »

The Only Scripture That Ever Made a Difference

June 9, 2011 | 32 comments
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As a missionary, I took pride in my familiarity with the scriptures. No matter the question, I could usually present an investigator with a scripturally backed answer. Being somewhat slow on the uptake, it probably took me a year or more to become conscious of the fact that most investigators didn’t ascribe the same level of authority to the scriptures that I did. I just took for granted that “proving a concept by the standard works” = “concern resolved!” But that’s a topic for a different post. This post is about the one scripture that did make a difference.... Read more »

Institutional Repentance

June 1, 2011 | 44 comments
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Kent’s post on community responsibility brings to mind the question of whether and how a community can repent. Do the first principles and ordinance of the gospel apply to the church as a whole? The church exemplifies faith through its teachings, and I can see the entire church organization as reflective of the ordinances of baptism and confirmation. But what about repentance? I’m not aware of any instances where the church as an institution has worked through a repentance-like process (acknowledging an institutional error, accepting responsibility for it, apologizing, and then working toward restitution), but that doesn’t mean such... Read more »

The New United Order

May 26, 2011 | 64 comments
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Is church Correlation the new United Order? I remember a conference talk from years ago (by Pres. Packer, if I recall correctly, though I haven’t been able to find the actual talk to confirm it.) The speaker talked about how his local church unit had a wonderful and unique youth program — something about performance or public speaking, I think. It was managed by great leaders and the results with the students were remarkable. They were engaged, enjoying themselves, and learning new skills. However, the call came down from higher authorities to shut down the local program and replace... Read more »

3 C’s and 1 S

May 18, 2011 | 31 comments
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When I arrived in Japan as a missionary, my trainer was Elder Wynder. The most important thing he taught me was the "Three C's". Maybe the rest of you learned these as kids (it seems like the kind of thing you'd hear in Primary), but I'd never heard them before. Read more »

Resolving Disharmony in the Church

May 11, 2011 | 382 comments
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NOM = “new order Mormon” — a general term for people who self-identify as Mormon, yet maintain unorthodox beliefs or practices. I mention this because there’s a bit of drama going on right now with John Dehlin. John is one of the most well-known church members associated with the NOM world (he does the Mormon Stories podcasts) . Apparently he’s been called in by... Read more »

Prove Me Wrong

May 7, 2011 | 61 comments
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I’m still not satisfied with how my two posts on doctrine and policy have wrapped up, so let me come back to that for one more minute. In those posts, I said that when members attempt to define doctrine, they essentially end up with “doctrine” meaning “things I agree with”. My attempt to get around that was to define doctrine as broadly as possible — anything taught by church members counts as doctrine. Most of the responses said that my definition was too broad, and put limitations on it like: if a general authority says something, we pray and... Read more »

Tasteful Nudity

May 5, 2011 | 74 comments
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In one of the strangest Fast Sunday testimonies I recall from my youth, a member of the ward spoke about his recent trip to Las Vegas (or was it Reno?) He’d gone down there with some other church members, and they had seen one of the shows. He went into the show somewhat naively, and was surprised to suddenly be confronted with on-stage nudity. The only part of the testimony I remember was him justifying staying through the show with something along the lines of, “…but it was tastefully done. And besides, the stake patriarch stayed and watched too!” (I... Read more »

Increasing Agency, and the Healer

May 4, 2011 | 8 comments
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Increasing Agency, and the Healer

Does winning the lottery increase your agency? In my “Forms of Agency” post, I said yes. After all, the lottery winner suddenly has more resources, which leads to more choices, and isn’t agency about choice? But now that I’ve thought on it some more, I’d like to give a more nuanced response. Imagine that you are cool dude or dudette (which shouldn’t take too much imagination, since most T&S readers are, in fact, cool dudettes and dudes). You’re witty, well-dressed, and totally hot (as I’m sure you are), and people like you. Now say you win the lottery —... Read more »

Barrack Obama, Osama bin Laden, and the Kids Eat Corn Pops

May 2, 2011 | 75 comments
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I’m sure you’ve heard the news — Osama bin Laden has been killed, and his body is held in the United States. I’m not someone who can speak insightfully to the political, military, or diplomatic facets here. I’m just a guy who was on the phone with his wife when she said, “Hey, it looks like bin Laden is dead. They say the president will be speaking in a few minutes.” I’m visiting my parents tonight, so we turned on the TV to ABC News and waited for about half an hour. During the wait, ABC showed video footage... Read more »

“Policy” and “Doctrine”, This Time with Venn Diagrams!

April 30, 2011 | 37 comments
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“Policy” and “Doctrine”, This Time with Venn Diagrams!

Here’s the circle that represents everything taught by church members, from the uncontroversial (like faith and repentance) to the bizarre  (“King Arthur lost the priesthood for not listening to Merlin”): Now let’s add another circle for things taught by General Authorities. Every GA is a member of the church, so this circle is entirely encompassed by the first: Now another circle for things taught in General Conference. Most conference talks are given by General Authorities, but some are not (e.g. talks given by auxiliary leaders): Now let’s add one more circle for the words of the prophet (he’s always... Read more »

On the Proper Usage of “Policy” and “Doctrine”

April 29, 2011 | 59 comments
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We’ve enjoyed (or endured) countless discussions about which church teachings are “doctrines” and which are merely “policies”. Here’s my two cents: “policy” and “doctrine” aren’t opposites — they’re not even on the same axis. Doctrines are beliefs that are taught (in fact, the word “doctrine” comes from the Latin for “teachings”, suggesting that any belief taught in the church is, at some level, doctrine). Policies are organizational practices. Some doctrines are policies, some policies are doctrines, some are both, and some are neither. Determining that a particular teaching is policy doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not also a doctrine.... Read more »

Forms of Agency

April 7, 2011 | 46 comments
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Forms of Agency

Agency is closely linked to power. Without power, we cannot make choices, and without choices we have no agency. It is by our power to help, to learn, to build that we exercise agency. Each of these — helping, learning, building — are forms of agency. (Agency is also closely linked to work and value, but I’ll come back to those later.) I’m fascinated by the idea of “forms of agency”. Most of us tend to exercise agency in only a very few forms, limited by our ignorance of the options available. For example, if you decided to bake... Read more »

What’s the Scripturefulness Level of Conference?

April 1, 2011 | 102 comments
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A few weeks ago, our ward’s Relief Society did a lesson on the fourteen fundamentals of following the prophet. As a result, I now have a copy of them hanging on my refrigerator. Putting away the leftover cheesecake after last night’s games of Magic, my eyes caught on #3: “The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.” With General Conference (is that supposed to be capitalized?) nigh at hand, I got to wondering how we treat the words of the living prophets as compared to those of the dead prophets. So here’s my informal survey... Read more »

The Mormon Twitternacle

March 22, 2011 | 23 comments
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The Mormon Twitternacle

After years of ignoring/making fun of it, I’ve finally gotten into Twitter. It lets me keep up with the people that I’m not close enough to to friend on Facebook. It also has cool feeds for things I’m interested in, but wouldn’t follow otherwise (like the new MESSENGER probe to Mercury and Cassini on Saturn. I love getting updates from our exploratory spacecraft! ). Once I got into it, I started looking for my bloggernacle friends and idols. I discovered (a) that it’s not easy to find people on Twitter, and (b) that in spite of the great Mormon... Read more »

Sharing the Gospel with Human Beings

March 21, 2011 | 10 comments
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(These are the notes for the talk I gave in sacrament yesterday.) Amanda When I returned from my mission in Japan, I was fired up about sharing the gospel. I wanted to be an effective member missionary. Back then, us missionaries had these big blue sheets of paper that we would use to plan our weeks. One side had a weekly schedule — Sunday, Monday, Tuesday… The other side had spaces for keeping track of the people you were teaching. On that side of the blue planner, you would keep a record of your progress in teaching each person... Read more »

Measures of Excellence, Gospel Hobbies, and Civilization 3

March 16, 2011 | 20 comments
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Measures of Excellence, Gospel Hobbies, and Civilization 3

A “measure of excellence” is a metric of comparison. Measures of excellence are what we use to say that one person is “better” than another. Money is another measure of excellence. In fact, beauty (for women) and money (for men) are the two historically dominant measures of excellence (at least, that’s the case in the history we tell each other today). In ancient times (1991, that is) there was a popular computer game called Civilization. You, the player, guided a civilization from 4000 BC to AD 2020. In the game there were two paths to victory. The first was... Read more »

Two Quick Comments

March 9, 2011 | 12 comments
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One: A “biblically-based cratering theory”? Aaaaauuuugh!! Two: The phrase “biblically based”. Whenever I meet a person who’s part of a new Christian church (now that I think about it, it’s kind of funny that this happens often enough for me to talk about it), they say that their church is unique because it’s “based on the teachings of the bible” — you know, as opposed to all of those other Christian churches out there, which are apparently using some other set of scriptures. Snark aside, I’m not aware of any mainstream Christian churches that don’t claim to be biblically... Read more »

“It’s been scientifically proven…”

March 8, 2011 | 21 comments
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I remember an argument I had with an acquaintance in high school. I don’t remember the topic anymore (capital punishment? abortion? gay marriage? I’m sure it must have been one of those perennial high school kid debates). A friend had recently told me something that bolstered my side of the argument. I knew the information was correct, because he told me that “it had been scientifically proven.” So I went confidently into the argument, and when the climax came I pulled out my trump card with a, “And it’s a scientifically proven fact!” Yet somehow my opponent failed to... Read more »

Why Do We Need So Many Gods?

March 3, 2011 | 38 comments
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Why Do We Need So Many Gods?

The idea of a godhead fascinates me. If a god is omnipotent, then why do we need three of them (or more, depending on your interpretation)? Here’s my entirely-speculative take on it. (Now including advice on how to raise your kids, too! I know, I know, it’s hard to find people who are willing to offer unsolicited parenting advice. You can thank me later.) One of the hardest parts of being a parent is figuring out when to be strict and when to be lenient. When your child throws a temper tantrum over something trivial, do you snuggle him... Read more »

Are the Arts Selfish?

February 27, 2011 | 98 comments
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In a previous ward, a high council speaker told the congregation that pursuing a degree in the arts is a selfish decision, and he counseled the youth and young adults to pursue a useful, financially secure discipline instead. My recollection is that is point was that an artist can’t provide a spouse and children with a decent, stable lifestyle. I’d love to hear from those of you who majored in the arts, and from those who wanted to major in the arts but ultimately decided not to. In retrospect, how do you feel about your choice? Read more »

Moral Authority

February 26, 2011 | 29 comments
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Moral Authority

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook a few days ago: Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told regardless of what is right. It’s a great bumper-sticker quote — short, emotionally charged, and completely one-sided. Usually I see these, chuckle, and move on, but this is one that my mind keeps coming back to, to chew on some more. What does the church do well? How does the church justify its own existence? (As an aside, if your answer to this question is, “The church doesn’t... Read more »